Like many of the contributors to She Found It at the Movies, the intoxicating new collection of essays from female and nonbinary writers about sex, desire and cinema, I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell head over heels for cinema. One rainy Sunday, aged 16, I revelled in an accidental double-bill of Tank Girl (1995) and Gone with the Wind (1939). I’d rented the former after being lured by the pulpy swagger of the VHS cover, and the latter simply popped up on BBC2. The uncompromising punk of Rachel Talalay’s comedy action film and the sweeping majesty of Victor Fleming’s 1939 romance epic were like nothing I had seen before. I was hooked.
The Assistant is a film that provokes a visceral physical reaction; the churning of the stomach, the gritting of the teeth, the white-knuckle gripping of a seat edge. It has malevolent monsters and horrified victims, and hums with a palpable sense of threat. It is, without doubt, a horror movie. Yet, while writer/director Kitty Green’s sensitively-made yet hard-hitting feature debut plays out in a dark, cold world full of secrets, lies and isolation, hers is no nightmarish fantasy landscape. Instead, she deftly — and devastatingly — lays bare the all-too-familiar fears that come with being made to feel like a voiceless, helpless, insignificant woman in an aggressively male environment.
For all its longevity and tradition, the western is a genre that responds well to reinvention. Daniel Barber’s The Keeping Room (2014), for example, is among the handful to be told from the female experience, while Patrick Hughes’ Red Hill (2010) is one of many to transplant the template to modern times and other countries. And while Chinese-born writer/director Chloe Zhao hasn’t attempted to turn the genre entirely on its head, her sophomore feature The Rider does reshape the traditional cowboy narrative in a way that both embraces and challenges western tropes.